by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 5 of
With a show set in the past, even one that doesn't always have its characters behave that way, like Arte, it's always a bit difficult to decide whether to approach analysis from a 2020 point of view or that from the time when the show is set. Veronica is a case in point – from our perspective today, she's really amazing: a woman who managed to become wealthy on her own and call her own shots during a time when that simply wasn't possible 99% of the time. But to the characters within the world of Arte, she's not someone to be admired or emulated; she's a “fallen woman” making her money “immodestly.” Although she only has a small role this week, it leads to one of the lines that's likely to stand out to viewers either because it sounds like it comes out of the blue or because it denigrates both Arte and Veronica: after Arte's first failed negotiation with Ubertino, she goes to Veronica for help, and after her second successful attempt, he asks her if she got advice from a prostitute.
Semantic issues aside – a courtesan may be a sex worker, but at the time it was a very different profession; the word actually just used to be the feminine of “courtier,” suggesting a higher class' standards – there's nothing in Arte's behavior that to us would suggest that she sought Veronica's counsel. But during the time the show is set in, Ubertino would see her as acting in too forward a manner for a properly raised woman, and that very aggressiveness (which is still pretty tame by our standards) is what suggests to him an improper source. Even though he's acknowledging her points, his statement is him disapproving of her tactics as unbecoming of a woman by the standards of the day, and possibly also the fact that she dressed up for the meeting, which might suggest to him that she's also trading on her appearance. It says more about Ubertino than Veronica, really, but it's also a very good example of the lesson Veronica was trying to teach Arterte last week, as well as how the time period we view something from really can make a huge difference when it comes to interpretation.
That moment aside, this week marks Arte's first attempt at the business side of being an artist, something she does at her own behest rather than because Leo asks her to. Ubertino is one of his long-time patrons (with the implication even before the end of the episode being that he inherited Ubertino's patronage from his master), and despite the fact that he makes a lot of money from him, he's not Leo's favorite person to deal with. Spotting this, and anxious to make up for her missteps in the previous episode, Arte offers to handle the negotiations in his stead. Leo appears more surprised than anything, but since he really doesn't want to have to deal with Ubertino (or possibly to teach her a lesson about how much harder this is than she thinks), he lets her go.
That Arte goes to Veronica for advice on how to bargain with an old man shows just how determined she is not to be a burden on Leo, but also that she's committed to working around any issues that her gender may cause her. A man won't talk to her as-is? Then she'll learn from someone who has made a career out of gently leading men to give her money. Her pedigree as Leo's apprentice isn't enough? Then she'll whip out her noble heritage and use that to convince him that the art is worth more than he initially wants to pay. We haven't really seen Arte marshal her forces for something she wants in an intellectual way before (although we could make an argument about her getting accepted as an apprentice as evidence of it), and it's a very nice change from the clumsy-but-good-hearted performance we more typically get. More than any number of bags of clay lugged, this episode makes a good case for Arte as a person who can look beyond class, gender, and expectations to get the job done, and that's really heartening to see.
It also gives us a little insight into why Leo was willing to take a chance on an unusual apprentice in the first place. As a beggar, his experience trying to join a workshop wasn't much different from Arte's as a female, something we've seen before but get a better sense of this week. It still isn't much in the way of backstory, but it does suggest that Leo got his gruff demeanor both from his experiences as an apprentice and as something he learned from his master. We also have far less modern Japanese body language this week, which is a major plus, and apart from a freak Victorian character in the background of one scene and Arte using the word “crochet” for lace-making when I'm pretty sure it should be “tatting” (but I could be wrong), this is looking better on the historical front. The episode itself isn't particularly thrilling, but hopefully it marks a shift for the better in that way.
Arte is currently streaming on Funimation.
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